Just last week, tumblr.com, a microblogging site specializing in aesthetics, fandoms and social justice, introduced a feature that would have driven away the entire userbase of a lesser site.
It started incorporating invisible and unblockable audio ads into the dashboard. I have been using the internet for around eight years of my life, and I can honestly say that there is nothing that will make me leave a webpage more quickly than unexpected audio. Especially when it’s an ad.
It’s a ballsy move for any site, but especially one that deleted most users’ html customized themes a week before and can only play about 30 percent of the audio posts that are actually created by posters.
And yet, the gamble is a safe one, because rather than log out and refuse to open tumblr ever again, as those ads should have merited, I, along with every other user I know, waited until someone told us how to mute our tabs and then continued scrolling through the site like nothing had happened.
Before I go too much into how tumblr fucked up though, let’s talk about what tumblr is.
I’ve mentioned it’s a microblogging site which means that it’s sort of a mashup of twitter and wordpress. Like wordpress, every user has a customizable website that can include both static pages and constantly updating posts. Like twitter, most of these posts aren’t original content, rather they’re content that gets shared across the site. From fanart to aesthetic pictures to rants about how women are treated in the workplace, most of the people seeing the content aren’t going to personally know the original poster. In short, it’s an excellent sharing site.
When it works, at least.
Tumblr Runs on Spaghetti Code
Because, let’s face it, for all the potential it has, tumblr isn’t a well put-together site. The mobile app can barely load pictures, which compose the majority of the site’s content, and, going by blog design, most of the userbase has a better grasp of html than the actual staff does.
In fact, the site is night unusable without the aid of xkit, the most popular collection of code modifying apps on the site. Xkit does everything from keeping a record of sent private messages to disabling gifs to providing a blacklisting feature so that users can block content they don’t want to see.
Not to mention that the staff doesn’t seem to give a shit about the opinions of the bloggers.
From taking away the popular “reply” feature for “an update,” only to replace it with the significantly less popular “chat” feature a number of months later, to badly targeted ads to constant visual changes that no one asked for, the staff doesn’t seem to be listening to what its userbase is saying.
And yet, between making fun of the terrible updates and the jokes about the staff actually just deleting the website, most of the userbase has acknowledged that they’re not going anywhere soon.
I’m a Millenial; I Need Social Validation
I’m a writer. I obviously write nonfiction, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article, but I’m currently working on a webserial about superheroes and a number of fanfiction projects.
As any writer can tell you, writing is hard, and creative writing is especially difficult because you can’t really get any appreciation for it until you’ve finished. And even then, if you don’t post it in the right place or you don’t have the skills to advertise it correctly, it’s possible no one will see the work anyway.
Tumblr isn’t like that. The concept of “mutuals,” people who you follow that also follow your blog, means that about a quarter of your readership actually considers themselves your friends, or at the very least acquaintances. That means that they’ll like original work, if only because they know how hard it is to produce, they’ll answer questions like “Should this character’s bandana be red, blue or purple?” and they’ll sometimes leave nice messages telling you to keep producing and how they can’t wait for the next chapter.
That sort of validation is enough to keep me returning to the site, even if I have to mute my computer so ads about gas stations and Disneyland don’t deafen me.
And even outside of content production, whether that be writing, playlist making or fanart, tumblr users sometimes provide general positivity and validation for scrollers. The userbase is largely composed of people of color, people who identify as lgbt, and people with physical and mental disabilities. Often that means that there are a lot of positive messages aimed at minority groups, as well as helpful advice and heaps of empathy for otherwise atypical struggles.
I’m not naïve enough to say that scrolling through tumblr is always a happy and validating experience, but it’s clear that tumblr is comprised of communities, and while they sometimes have their problems, those communities look out for each other.
I know that I’ve gotten a lot of support that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to find because of this website.
Friendship Endures Beyond Unexpected Audio
The site has an incredibly accessible social atmosphere. You can scroll through your dash and reblog things, with an occasional @ sign to show a friend you were thinking of them, or you can directly message or chat with them, depending on your mood or level of friendship.
For someone who spends most of my time in my room, tumblr is an essential social experience.
It connects me to people I know I have things in common with, even if that’s as simple as just liking the same media.
I’ve made some incredible friends with the aid of this site, people who have been with me through all sorts of drama and have offered comfort and advice when I needed it. I’ve even managed to connect with people I’d otherwise only know from a class or single conversation with the aid of tumblr’s sharing features. Hell, when I finally publish a book, some of the people on the dedications page are going to be people I met on tumblr.
A Daily Dose of Self-Promotion
I’ve talked a little about how content spreads on tumblr, but I want to go into that a bit more. Because tumblr is a microblogging site, the main method of posts is reblogging, taking another person’s original work and linking it on your blog for all of your followers to see. This practice is so core to the site that it’s actually impossible to comment on work without reblogging it. That means that once content starts spreading, it spreads fast.
Unlike Facebook, where, first you have to have friends that care what you’re saying, then you need to hope that even though they don’t know you, their friends also care, most tumblr users rely on other people’s posts and artwork for the majority of their content.
If a single person reblogs a piece of artwork, every single one of their followers has a chance to see it and, if they like it, reblog it as well. Of course this sort of marked appreciation is fantastic for young artists’ egos, but it’s also great for freelance artists. It’s incredibly common to see well known artists opening up commissions, meaning that they will draw requested art for a monetary price. Other users link to their Etsy shops so even people who don’t normally browse Etsy have a chance of seeing what they’ve made.
So Yeah, I’m Here to Stay
A thriving social atmosphere, constant memes and hilarious posts, fanart and personal validation all combine to make tumblr a worthwhile experience. Tabs have to be muted and webpages can be rebuilt, but the sort of validation and community that tumblr offers is worth the trouble.